As I noted was likely in my previous analysis, we head into June on the back of low May 2021 Japanese box office returns as the result of an industry bombarded by rising COVID cases. After already losing the lucrative Golden Week earnings potential to the necessary closures of cinemas in some of the country’s most densely populated areas, and with many films being delayed because of these same closures, there were few cinemas open and even fewer new releases to excite cinemagoers and encourage them to visit.
It’s again important to note that much of the country did have the welcome sight of cinemas operating as close to normal as possible and in a way that simply wasn’t feasible this time last year. Long-running favorites continued to bring in at least some favorable returns that surpassed the low earnings of early re-openings, driven by classics like old Studio Ghibli films.
But the 2021 monthly box office is still noticeably down on a May 2019 slate that was buoyed by the likes of Detective Conan: The Fist of Blue Sapphire, Avengers: Endgame, and The Confidence Man JP. And this isn’t considering the fact that, as major venues like TOHO cinemas re-open this month in Osaka and Tokyo on limited hours, the results of the last month show that even in areas where chains have been unaffected, rising COVID cases across much of the country have kept people away.
Following Golden Week, box office returns have been boosted primarily by the continued strong performance of long-standing favorites. In saying that, there were a few films that braved the release schedule.
A Note to Look Beyond Box Office Standings
Aided by a lack of competition in the same circumstances that saw The Last Exorcist rise to the top of the box office, following the first re-opening of cinemas last year, Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Skin successfully dethroned Detective Conan from the top of the box office charts in the weekend of 15-16 May. The story behind their chart-topping ‘success’ relies on the act of perception and warrants further exploration.
In normal circumstances, topping the box office in any particular week would be considered an impressive achievement and a sign of success against strong competition. As a result, the news that a film topped the box office is noteworthy and can create buzz and publicity around a film that didn’t necessarily exist before that, helping to push it to further success. Even when returns are low, you can still proudly proclaim your success to the world.
Beautiful Lure is the latest movie production from the cult of Happy Science, known best for their denial of war crimes and for claiming that you can spiritually ‘pray COVID-19 away’ through the power of belief. And don’t worry, they did a spiritual investigation and found out it was a Chinese bioweapon, honest! This, like their other films, is a promotional tool for the cult, and perception is important. The same 140 million opening weekend return for the film would see it chart 5th just one month earlier at the beginning of April and perform even worse in pre-COVID Japan.
But again, this is a matter of perception. Proclaiming a film like The Last Exorcist topped the charts for 5 weeks must be impressive, just ignore that it came out when no other film would and asked their followers to risk COVID to see it. Pushing this success, or that the film won awards at film festivals (mostly minor ones), gives an air of legitimacy to the movie. Meanwhile, the film charted just 5th on its third weekend, with returns of 360 million yen to date.
Elsewhere, the most notable new release would be A Morning of Farewell, which overtook the previous film at the top of the charts the very next week with 148 million yen in its opening weekend. It is a drama about a woman called Sawako who drifts in life to a small hospital in her hometown Kanazawa, meeting various patients facing the end of their life. Here, she aims to help the patients where she can, including her father.
While perhaps a lower-than-hoped return for the film considering the talent involved, including director Izuru Narushima and actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, the hope will be that the movie will remain consistent and boost its returns as more cinemas re-open this month. Other releases, like the latest Fate/Grand Order movie, arguably underperformed on expectations with the film earning just 120 million yen to date after three weeks.
Beyond this, most of the May 2021 box office is as we left it, with June relying on new releases to revive an otherwise stagnant month. The biggest returns came from movies released in April or earlier, with Rurouni Kenshin taking the top spot at the box office for the first time in its 6th weekend at the end of the month with 114 million yen.
Detective Conan’s progress at the box office has been stalled by closures, and despite the hope of continuing to break franchise records following a strong opening, the film has so far earned a still-impressive 6.5 billion yen, putting it behind the pace of other recent films in the franchise. Elsewhere, Evangelion 3.0+1.0 has climbed to a cumulative 8.6 billion yen at the box office.
Perhaps most noteworthy of the long-standing releases is Demon Slayer, more for its absence than its presence. Having finally broken the 40 billion yen barrier, the film continued to drop down the charts as the date of its upcoming Blu-ray release fast approaches. Last weekend, on the film’s 33rd week in cinemas, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie Mugen Train didn’t feature in the top 10 for the first time since its release. Perhaps unsurprising after so long, but still impressive that it achieved such returns for such an extended period.
It’s still an impressive run which, according to Aniplex, cements the film to a mind-boggling total of 51.7 billion yen worldwide.
Next month, cinemas will be relying on a few end-of-the-month releases alongside new ones planned for throughout June from films previously delayed to pick up the low May box office numbers. Cruella and Tokyo International Film Festival 2020 closing film Hokusai both saw a release this past weekend as they slotted into 6th and 7th position. While there will be hopes to see Hokusai perform better as the weeks go on, considering the talent involved in the film including Yuya Yagira and Hiroshi Abe, Cruella is less reliant on cinematic success and may appear to perform poorly like Raya and the Last Dragon while being boosted by Disney+ Premier Access.
What’s Coming Out at the Japanese Box Office in June 2021
Thanks to several movie delays and already-scheduled releases, June is looking to be a rather busy month for new film releases. Several major movie releases are scheduled throughout the month: the transgender documentary You Decide opens in independent cinemas from 19 June in time for Pride month, and we also have an independent movie based on the true story behind the HANDSIGN song ‘Boku ga Kimi no Mimi in Naru (Let Me Be Your Ears)’. We’ve picked out the ones most worth looking out for.
Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette
We previewed Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette back in our April edition when it appeared as though the film was on track for a release in Japanese theaters just in time for Golden Week. Obviously, this release never materialized, but the film is available in cinemas starting from today. It’s another chance to see the live-action adaptation of Kakegurui take a new form on the big screen.
In this original story spun off of the live-action adaptation, a former student known as Makuro Shikigami has returned to Hyakkao Private Academy for a deadly gambling match that raises the stakes beyond money. The film is set to receive a North American premiere at the upcoming Fantasia Film Festival, but is now screening in Japanese cinemas from today.
Pompo the Cinephile
Another film subject to numerous delays because of COVID-19, Pompo the Cinephile is an exciting new anime feature that has this movie lover very intrigued.
Based on a manga that won lots of praise and attention through the Manga Taisho Awards in 2018, the story follows the titular Pompo (full name Joelle Davidovich Pomponette) and Gene Fini. Gene Fini is a production assistant and film fanatic in the movie capital of Nyallywood that, after being blown away by one of Pompo’s scrips, is challenged by her to direct the film himself and bring it to life in what will be his first feature film.
The film has been a long time coming, but what better movie to see in cinemas than a movie all about the magic of making films and the joy of the darkened room! The film hits cinemas in Japan this Friday, 4 June.
For something on the (much) smaller side, True North may be an animated feature worth checking out if you’re after something a little different.
This Japan-Indonesia independent co-production is set in North Korea and follows the story of a young boy sent with the rest of his family to a North Korean prison camp after their father disappears. It’s a low-poly animated film based on true stories about life in North Korean labor camps and the conditions for the people living within them.
The film was showcased at last year’s online-only Annecy Film Festival and was one of the more impressive films for its human core and sobering perspective, despite its at-times harsh animation style. The film will be showcased in select TOHO and other cinemas from this Friday, 4 June.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is the latest animated feature from Studio 4°C. The film takes on a new English name than Nikuko of the Fishing Harbor, following the news that the film would be showcased out-of-competition at Annecy Film Festival later this month.
Based on the novel of the same name from Kanako Nishi, this is a film about Nikuko and Kikuko, a mother and daughter with little in common that live on a boat in a fishing port. While Nikuko is easy-going, always cheerful and always ready to eat, Kikuko is embarrassed by her. However, a miracle occurs when their secret is revealed.
Alongside the Annecy Film Festival screening, the film will hit Japanese theaters on 11 June.
The Goldfish: Dreaming of the Sea
Finally, we have The Goldfish: Dreaming of the Sea, a feature film directorial debut for Sara Ogawa that has received praise and intrigue from the likes of Kore-Eda Hirokazu.
In this film, Hana, a high school girl, has grown up in a foster home because of a crime her mother is said to have committed. As the oldest sister in the home, Hana takes care of a newly sheltered girl abused by her mother. The story of the film is about their growing friendship and life in foster care.
With impressive praise and a strong trailer showcasing the film’s potential, this looks to be an intriguing debut film from the up-and-coming actor and director. The film hits Japanese theaters on 25 June.